MTC will commission a minimum of 35 new works and provide up to 15 writer-in-residence opportunities over five years.

Seven of Australia’s finest writers have been commissioned to develop new plays through Melbourne Theatre Company’s newly launched $4.6 million programme Next Stage. Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Michael Gow, Benjamin Law, Joanna Murray-Smith, Leah Purcell and Ellen van Neerven will be the first to produce new work intended to enter the canon of great Australian plays.

“Our intention for Next Stage is quite simple – to better support Australian writers. However, the programme is remarkable not simply for the significant increase in the annual number of commissions we will undertake, but for the meaningful length of engagement between writers and MTC. Next Stage allows us to provide more opportunities for more writers, with better funding and deeper relationships with the Company”, said MTC Artistic Director Brett Sheehy.

The five-year programme will provide a total of 50 opportunities for Australian writers, providing the resources needed to workshop and develop plays from drafts through to production. Next Stage will ensure a minimum of 35 new play commissions, with flexibility in commissioning fees to afford writers additional time and resources to produce new work, and up to 15 writer-in-residence opportunities for playwrights to work closely with MTC for up to three years. Writers in residence will be commissioned to write a full-length play in their second year, and will receive an annual stipend, office resources, company support and regular meetings with the artistic team.

“Since our earliest days, Melbourne Theatre Company has been the birthplace of some truly iconic Australian plays,” MTC Chair Terry Moran said. “Thanks to generous investment from MTC’s Playwrights Giving Circle, Next Stage will take this legacy to a new level with greater resources, time and opportunities dedicated to supporting writers and their work.”

As part of the programme, a national group of advisors has been established with whom MTC will consult when selecting writers to commission. The group is comprised of those across a diverse range of performance and literary disciplines, and includes Tony Ayres, David Berthold, Lee Lewis, Rachael Maza, Kate Mulvany, Simon Phillips and Morry Schwartz.

“By investing in our writers, giving them the time and support needed to realise their ideas as fully developed plays, Next Stage will have a significant role in helping to build a canon of great Australian works. And generations of Australians will reap the benefits,” Sheehy said.